By Dr. Crystal Sparling

Just when you thought it was safe…

Early last summer I found myself in one of those slow-motion time warps that every mother knows and dreads. I stepped outside and saw my daughter struggling in the deep end of our friend’s pool. She floundered and gasped for less than ten seconds before she was scooped to safety by a nearby adult but we were both shaken up. This minor close-call was a reminder of how tragedy can strike in an instant.

As a pediatrician, water related injury is very high on my worst-case scenario list. Ask any Pedi Mom about water safety and they’ll have a heartbreaking story to share. And it’s no wonder. The numbers on water related injury and death are startling. According to the CDC, about ten Americans die from unintentional drowning every day. On average, two of those are children younger than 14. In addition, for every child that dies from drowning, another five children visit the emergency room for nonfatal submersion injuries. Those kids often have devastating brain injuries that result in permanent disability.1

So how do we keep our kids safe around the water? The key is not to take your kids’ safety for granted. Every second counts. Check out these simple interventions to reduce the risk of water-related injury.  

  1. Pool Fences and Other Barriers:  Most drownings in children under the age of four occur in home swimming pools. Strong, four-sided pool fences are most effective at reducing the risk of injury. The fence should completely surround the pool, not have footholds for climbing, and be equipped with a self-latching gate. Don’t forget to secure hot tubs, garden ponds, and other water features. Above ground pools should also be protected by a fence because kids can fall over or through the pool wall.2
  2. Swim Lessons:  Children over the age of one that have had formal swim lessons are at lower risk of drowning. Make sure your kids are strong swimmers and teach them about water safety.
  3. Equipment Safety:  Suction from pool and spa drains can trap kids underwater. Make sure all drain covers and pool equipment are functioning appropriately. It’s a good idea to keep a rescue hook near home pools. If your child will be using a life vest in any body of water, make sure it fits properly.
  4. Eyes on the Water:  Nothing takes the place of close supervision. Never leave a child unattended in or near the water under any circumstances. Don’t assume that any floatie or life vest will keep your kids out of trouble, and remember that even good swimmers can drown. Many injuries take place when a lot of adults are around and everyone assumes someone else is watching out for the kids. Designate a responsible adult to watch the water at all times and consider hiring a lifeguard for parties.

It doesn’t get much better than the pool or beach in the summertime and swimming is a great physical activity for the whole family. Take the proper precautions to protect your family so you can continue having fun in the sun. For more information, you can check out and Stay alert and have a great summer!


Crystal Sparling, MD, MPH

Dr. Sparling is a mother and a board-certified pediatrician with experience in outpatient pediatrics, hospital pediatrics, and public health. She is a co-founder of Scissortail Pediatrics in Blanchard, OK.


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) [online]. [cited 2012 May 3]. Available from: URL:
  2. Thompson DC, Rivara FP. Pool fencing for preventing drowning in children. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2000; 2.